With well-liked farmer Anne Eschenroeder back in charge and a whole new board of directors, Phillies Bridge Farm Project is looking to resurrect like a phoenix from its bad year in 2013.
That promise of a better tomorrow has the new board really excited. “On a human level, it’s really incredible what happened,” said Tim Sutton, one of the new board members.
Sutton, who had been a long-time shareholder at the community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm, got inspired to join the board in 2013 when he saw Phillies Bridge in danger.
Last year, the 65-acre CSA canceled its harvest and fired its farm managers. Donna Eis, the executive director, also resigned during the failed growing season.
In 2013, exactly why the former executive director stepped down wasn’t apparent. But sources close to Phillies Bridge Farm painted Eis as a conscientious objector — one who saw things going wrong, spoke out against them, but resigned in frustration over not being able to turn the tide.
She’s still been active with the farm since Sally Vasse, the new president, and the new farm board took over, and they have warm feelings toward her.
“She is a person of great integrity, strength and intelligence, patience and devotion to Phillies Bridge Farm,” Vasse explained.
According to Sutton, hearing that the farm was on the brink was disheartening.
“I went to that meeting, and I was really pissed off. I was really upset about how it went down with the communication from the board,” he said. “Sally asked me to be on the board.”
Where people left that meeting feeling “bulldozed and angry,” behind the scenes a new board was coming together. An anonymous donor also gave a substantial amount toward operating funds. Donations will also help reduce costs this year for the shareholders who didn’t get the produce they were promised in 2013.
Vasse, a long-time Phillies Bridge board member, started recruiting new blood and fresh ideas. She’s become the president of the Board of Directors. Vasse has been with Phillies Bridge Farm since 1994, when it started. She didn’t want to see the organization die.
Now Vasse sees a lot of hope. “It’s just phenomenal,” the board president said.
On the new farm board, there are eight new members with only four returning members of the 12.
Lisa Torquato is another long-time Phillies Bridge Farm CSA member who took a seat on the board this year. She came to the farm pretty much every week with her family. Her kids grew up there and went to the agricultural summer camp there.
“I think I took the farm for granted,” Torquato said. “I really pined for my mornings here every Saturday. It didn’t go away. We left that horrible meeting, and we thought, ‘Everything’s kaput now and that’s that.’”
Each Saturday was a sad reminder of how awesome the farm had been in its glory days. “It threw my day for months,” she explained. Torquato said she knew she had to get involved and save it.
Farmer Anne Eschenroeder first came to New Paltz in 2010. Originally from Virginia, she’d been studying and working at organic farms out in California when she applied for the job. She knew she wanted to move back East, but she didn’t know much about New Paltz then.
The farm became a huge part of her life. She met her boyfriend there. People were excited to meet the new Phillies Bridge farmer whenever she introduced herself. “It was my whole life for three years,” she explained.
But she left in 2013 to take a job at another agricultural non-profit, in part, to sort out how farming fit into her life in the future.